As federal agencies look to cloud, ‘provider sprawl’ becomes a problem

Federal agencies continue to move more of their operations and services into cloud computing environments, as cloud integration is seen as a key IT focus for every level of government. However, there are a number of factors complicating this process. One of the most significant of these, as CIO recently reported, is "provider sprawl."

Sprawling problems
Obviously, the cloud has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years. The number of providers, users and available services has skyrocketed. While this trend has created many more opportunities for organizations, including federal agencies, it has also significantly complicated the adoption process.

For example, Gerald Chelak, director of the technical service division at the GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, told the news source that this agency is completely committed to embracing cloud solutions. However, despite this fact, Chelak acknowledged that federal CIOs in both his own department and beyond often experience difficulties achieving their cloud goals, and cloud service provider sprawl is a major factor behind these struggles. The cloud market is simply evolving faster than many government leaders can react.

Additionally, agencies themselves are now embracing and deploying a wide range of cloud services and tools, further complicating the IT environment within their departments. Frequently, agencies work with a number of different vendors for their cloud computing requirements. When these solutions are pursued separately, the result is a siloed IT environment, one which is inefficient and difficult to secure and optimize.

Integration issues
To respond to such issues, Gunnar Hellekson, chief strategist for the U.S. public sector for Red Hat, emphasized the need for IT exit strategies, the news source reported.

"When you're talking about moving to a cloud, if you really want to take advantage of the elasticity and the flexibility and as-a-service aspect of it, you need to make sure you know how to leave a service as easily as you entered it," he said, CIO reported.

Frequently, federal agencies pursue cloud services without keeping these factors in mind. As a result, sprawl takes effect and it becomes difficult for organizations to take full advantage of cloud technology.

Perspective needed
There are a variety of additional factors that contribute to the growing problem of cloud service provider sprawl in the federal government. One of the most straightforward, and most significant, is the lack of cloud expertise possessed by many agencies' top decision-makers. These leaders often understand the cloud to a fairly significant degree, but they do not have the in-depth experience necessary to navigate an increasingly complex arena without running into sprawl and related issues.

This state of affairs emphasizes the need for federal government decision-makers to work with third-party firms as they continue to embrace the cloud to a greater degree. These organizations can provide agency leaders with improved perspective and guidance, helping to minimize sprawl and the tendency toward IT silos. This, in turn, can maximize the value provided by cloud technology throughout the government.